California State History

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California is the third largest state in the United States. It is located on the west coast. The Pacific Ocean runs along one of its borders. Uplands make up the vast majority of California, but it has a very diverse landscape, in general. It is full of hills, valleys, peaks and ridges. It has majestic mountains and a beautiful coastline. The mountains in California reach heights of up to 15,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada area, which lies near the Central Valley and many different desert basins.

Despite the fact that California is full of beautiful scenery, there are also plenty of economic hubs and urban areas in the state. Most of the economic and urban areas are in California’s valleys. For example, the second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles, is located in a lowland section of California.

California has a lot of farmland, skilled laborers and a wide variety of natural resources. Between those things and the fact that it is both a goods and information services hub for the country and various parts of the world, it is no wonder that it such a popular state to live and work in. In fact, agriculture and manufacturing are huge sources of income for California residents.

California is also a state full of extremes. It is home to both Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental USA, and Death Valley, the lowest point in the nation. It is also home to the only giant sequoia trees in the USA. In fact, the state contains a number of national forests, parks and protected regions.

California also leads all of the states in the nation in a number of other ways. For example, it produces more farm crops than any other state. It also has more students enrolled in its colleges than any other state does. In addition to that, it contains more civil aircraft and automobiles than any state in the nation. However, that’s not really surprising when you consider that California also has the highest population of any state in the USA.

California’s population grew at an incredibly fast rate between the 1940s and 1980s. Unfortunately, that growth and development has created some problems that current residents of the state now have to face. For example, many residents of California live in the southern part of the state, where water shortages are commonplace. That means that water must somehow be transported in, costing the state a lot of money. Farm land is also being cut into more in recent years by urban development. Not only that, but a higher population means more needs and demands as far as hospitals, schools, recreational centers and other public services go. Again, that means that the state must constantly spend more money on expansions of those services.

Back in the mid 1700s, California was mainly inhabited by indigenous tribes of Native Americans. However, the Spanish wanted to conquer those tribes and take over the area. So, they sent both missionaries and military men to the area in 1769. hoping to seize control of the region near San Diego. They created El Camino Real, which translates to “The King’s Highway.” Essentially, they built missions that were about a day apart from one another and began raising livestock and planting crops around those missions. Unfortunately for them, a major earthquake struck in 1812, destroying a lot of those missions. However, the Mexican government succeeded in secularizing the mission holdings in 1833 and then those pieces of land became privately owned. Suddenly, Spanish and Mexican citizens were living all along the coastal region from San Francisco to San Diego.

It was a Mexican rancher by the name of Francisco Lopez who first discovered gold in California, about 35 miles to the north of what is now known as Los Angeles, back in 1842. However, a much larger gold discovery was made in 1848, at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma. However, there are many other reasons why it became known as the “Golden State.” One of those reasons is that California has also been home to a lot of “black gold” (oil) discoveries over the years. It has also been known for growing fruit, producing cattle and a lot of other “golden” opportunities to make a living throughout its history.

Unfortunately, one of those “golden” opportunities was illegal and, to many people, immoral. It began in 1800 when the Russian American Fur Company, which was operated out of Alaska, decided to start illegally killing the sea otters that made their homes off the coast of California. Originally, this job was given to 20 Aleut natives and a New England ship captain, but several of the Russians soon moved to California to expand the business. Many of their descendants still reside near San Francisco Bay.

Another major change to the area came in 1846, when a large group of Mormons from New York migrated to California. A group of more than 200 of them sailed around Cape Horn and settled on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, across from San Francisco. They made their living by working in lumber camps in the area.

The next major change came after the Mexican War in 1848. The USA managed to gain control of all of Mexico’s southwestern land. Statehood was declared on September 9, 1850. That led to a huge number of immigrants, including many Italians, moving to the area. Subsequently, there were quite a few land claims. So, in March of 1851, Congress finally declared that land commissioners would be sent to review those claims. Until then, residents were forced to try to make claims through lengthy litigation involving regulatory agencies and courts.

In 1869 the Central Railroad, which later became Southern Pacific Railroad, was completed. Upon its completion in May of that year it immediately started to bring both goods and people west to California. As a result, lots of towns started popping up along the railroad’s route. More Mormons migrated west and so did many Chinese laborers, who worked cheaply on the railroad and in the area’s many mines.

Unfortunately for genealogists and historians, a major earthquake struck the city of San Francisco in 1906. The quake itself did catastrophic damage, but it also spawned fires, which consumed most of the city. That meant that many important records on the San Francisco area and its residents were lost.

The1920s through the 1940s saw depression, drought and then World War II. All of those things caused major changes in California. For example, naval, military and labor personnel were all in high demand in the 1940s.

California was originally settled due to gold, illegal hunting and agriculture. However, it has recently been a hub for computers, technology and entertainment. In fact, the 1980 census showed that California had twenty-three million residents, about three million more than it had in 1970. Its population has continued to grow into the 21st century.

California Ethnic Group Research

California History Databases and other Helpful Links

The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for California genealogy work.

State Genealogy Guides